Sunday, October 13, 2013

Too Much Can Yield Too Little

Trey Smith

Rachel Levinson-Waldman has a nice piece in the Guardian about mass surveillance in which she notes that "when the haystack gets too big, it is almost impossible to find any needles." In other words, the NSA is collecting so much information that it has proven difficult to hone in on anything specific.

As I have noted before, if these mass surveillance programs were as effective as supporters claim, there should be far less mass shootings and major crimes being committed. Drug kingpins, money launderers, and extortion czars should be shaking in their boots. The local news should be a pedestrian affair with lead stories about the garden club and parking tickets.

But murderous shootings continue unabated. Major crimes are committed daily. I am not suggesting that these ubiquitous spy programs would put an end to all crime and misbehavior, but one would think it would put a damper on them. And yet, in the past few years, we've had a horrific stream of incidents that caught the authorities flat-footed.

The most glaring of these was the Boston Marathon bombings. The brothers accused of the crime were known to the FBI, even though the FBI initially acted as if it had no idea who they were. One would think that, because we're all being spied on, some federal agency would have stepped in during the brother's planning and preparation process. Yet, despite the recently revealed information on just how far that spying goes, no one in the NSA, FBI, CIA and other such agencies interceded. The deadly act was carried out as intended.

It would seem in this case and others that too much overall information yields too little pointed information. Yes, the government knows what books you and I check out from the library or who we chat with on Skype or Facebook, but they don't seem to know who is planning the next mass murder or who is plotting the next Wall Street financial debacle.

Something is amiss here.

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